Authors: Nick S. Thomas
"Open the gates and let us see inside!"
Red had nothing left to say as he watched in disbelief.
"You have three seconds, three...two!"
The Springfield barked out as a round rushed out of its dusty barrel and passed through the hostage taker’s head. Blood and brain matter burst out from the exit wound, and he immediately dropped to the ground, dead. The other rider turned to face him and spotted him instantly. He reached for a weapon on his bike. Zed's hand went for the bolt to reload, but he had been too slow. Too shocked and stunned by everything he had seen and done.
A gunshot rang out as the biker fired at him with a pistol. Rock dust went into Zed's eye as the round landed nearby. As the man took aim for a second shot, he noticed Rave leap from a rock above, a fifteen-foot descent. The weight of her landing knocked the man to the ground with his one leg trapped beneath the bike, and his pistol cast aside as he fell. He was winded by the impact.
Zed chambered the next round to be sure, but he needn't have. He watched Rave draw out her signature hatchet, and the blade drove down towards the trapped man. He lifted his hands to protect himself, but the first strike knocked them down. The second embedded in his head, and he was dead.
The gates were cast open, and a dozen people rushed out to the aid of their wounded comrade. A waft of sweet smelling soup came out with them. Zed knew this was an entirely different kind of setup to Jaytown. He wondered how they had survived this long, but he knew deep down there was only one reason. They were lucky enough to stay a secret, a secret he had just destroyed for them. No one went near him and Rave as they lifted the wounded man and carried him inside. Only Red came out to address them.
"I don't know who you are, but you brought this trouble to our door."
Zed couldn't deny it. He felt sorry for the man, but he couldn't change what had happened.
"I didn't wish it on you. We are just trying to get on in this life, same as you."
Red nodded in appreciation. What he had done to save his friend was not lost on him.
"We know who these people are, from that disgusting pit of a town. We have stayed away all this time, and I can understand why you would want the same. You can stay the night. But by morning you get out of here, and you dispose of those bodies as well. I don't want any evidence left that either they or you were ever here. These are good people. They don't need the sort of trouble you have brought."
"Appreciated," replied Zed.
"All right, then welcome to our town, Hope."
"Hope?" Rave asked.
"There has to be some left in this life."
Zed couldn't wait to get inside and start asking some questions, but he had to be careful about overstepping the boundaries. They were walking a fine line. They watched as the man was carried off, and several others pulled the dead bodies and bikes within the walls. For a moment they didn't know what to do. Rave looked even more suspicious of them than they did of her. Despite the primitive look of the place, it was far more in line with the life he used to remember. The people were far cleaner and well dressed, and their manner was civil compared to Jaytown. This brought him some relief. At least there were still normal people out there.
It was very clear that Red wasn't happy about them being there, and he watched them like a hawk. They took a seat on the steps of a shack close to the entrance and stayed there. Zed didn't want to be seen to be causing any trouble or mischief. They waited for Red to come back to them, and they knew he would. Rave looked uncomfortable and a little self-conscious. He even noticed her trying to clean her face up a little after having seen the townsfolk.
"So you never heard of this place?"
She shook her head.
"Lots of places around I ain't ever been or heard of."
"And Jay, could he know about this place?"
"I dunno. He never told us much."
Zed noticed a woman approaching. She was balancing a bowl in each hand, but Red was on course to intercept her before she could reach them.
"Hey, Val, we aren't feeding these people. They aren't with us," he said, grabbing her one arm and blocking her path, but she looked at him in disbelief.
"How dare you! Those people saved my husband's life," she snapped, as she pulled away from his light hold and brushed past him. Red didn't looked apologetic, but he didn't try and stop her again. She strode up to the two of them and gently handed them each a bowl.
"I am sorry that you haven't got a better welcome here. We have had bad experiences with strangers in the past, but if it wasn't for you, my husband would be dead."
Zed didn't even know what to say, and Rave just tucked into her food as if nothing had happened. It seemed a little disrespectful, and yet he was starting to understand just how important something like a meal could be to them.
"Thank you," he said sincerely.
"No, thank you. You are heroes. I don't think there are many like you left in this world."
He appreciated the sentiment, and yet knew deep down it hadn't been a wholly unselfish act that he had done. Red was still fuming in the background. They both knew him and Rave had led Jay's people to their town, but nobody was saying it. The woman smiled as she watched them eat. It was simple food, but the best he could remember.
A number of townspeople were gathering around and merely watching them as if intrigued somehow.
"Come on, let them eat," said Val, gesturing for them to leave.
They did as she asked, but she had a few words for them before she followed.
"Thank you again, and God bless you."
They were left to finish their meals, and it didn't take them long. Hours passed as they just paced back and forth to pass the time. They didn't want to venture any further into town, as they could both see the potential for causing trouble. After a few hours, Zed walked up onto the wall to look out. Red came up to them. He sighed as he stopped and leaned against the wall next to him.
"When I said you are out in the morning, I really meant it. As soon as the sun is up."
"I know," he replied calmly.
"Can't have strangers raising trouble around here. We can't afford it. Not after all we have been through."
From his face and tone it had been rough.
"How long have you been here?"
Red looked surprised by the comment and a little suspicious.
"What do you want from me?" he asked.
"Just a little understanding of this world."
"We are trying to survive and get by the best way we can, what else is there to understand?"
"I don't understand you, and I don't like that. Who are you really?"
Zed thought about how best to respond.
Why not try the truth?
"Honestly, I don't know."
"You don't know?" he said with a smirk, "What kind of bullshit answer is that?"
"Really, I woke up on a rock outcrop a few days back, no idea how I got there or who I am. I was attacked by those assholes from Jaytown, and I have been trying to figure all this out ever since."
Red began to laugh.
"You're not serious? You aren't gonna try and sell me that crap, are you? Really?"
Zed didn’t answer him.
Well, I suppose it was worth a try.
"So, you don't know who or what you are? I don't believe you, and that worries me even more. I could understand why you might be here, and why you might be chased for all sorts of reasons, but you ain't given me one good answer yet."
Zed pulled out his photos.
"This is the reason. I told you before. I don't know exactly who they are because I don't remember."
He took a closer look at the photos but still looked suspicious.
"How do I know you aren't just out to kill them?"
"Kill them?" he asked in amazement.
Red could see and hear some sincerity and backed down as a result.
"Even if what you say is true, those photos must be fifteen years old or more."
Zed's face turned to stone, but Red didn't understand why.
"Oh, come on, I've had enough of this don't remember crap."
"What happened fifteen years ago?"
"All this," Red gestured with his arms at the land before them.
"It's like this all over?" Zed asked.
"Who knows? I've travelled and not seen better, but it's dangerous to move around much these days. Always somebody wants to take what's yours, and they'll kill to get it."
"You seem to have got by okay here."
"Yeah, just. Why? Because we keep our heads down, we don't look for trouble, and we don't invite it in."
"I am sorry for bringing them to your door. I never meant to bring trouble."
"Yeah, but you did. So far you've cost us a bit of food and a wounded man that will hopefully make it through. We can live with that, but don't take any more from us."
Zed didn't know what to say. He had never wanted to cause harm to anyone that didn't harm him first, but he knew he this was his doing.
"I don't buy this story. This you don't know who you are crap. I don't know why you are making it up, and I really don't care too much, just as long as you get out of here as quickly as you came."
Zed sighed as he leaned over the wall in despair.
"How can I make you believe me? How can I make you trust me? Has the whole world gone to shit?" he grumbled.
Red didn't respond. Zed just wanted to weep. He reached into his bag and took out his flask for a sip of water.
"Where did you get that?" Red asked in amazement.
Zed didn't understand, but the man seemed to recognise it.
"No, don't you give me that shit! There ain't no way in hell you got that any way but by stealing it!"
Zed shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about. When I woke up, I had this on me. If it belongs to someone else, then I am sorry. If I could return it, I would."
"Let me see those photos again," Red demanded.
He didn't want to part with them, but he had to take a chance. Right now he had nothing to go by, and this got him curious. He handed them to Red, but the Sheriff still looked cautious and wary of him. He stopped at the picture of him and the other man. He looked back up to be sure it was actually Zed, but even through the passing years and dirt on his face, it was unmistakeable.
"How do you know that man?"
Zed shrugged. He had a theory, but he didn't want to share it, not until he knew what he was dealing with.
"I told you. I can't remember. All I know is I have those pictures and this flask. The people in those pictures know me, and for that reason alone I have to find them. I have to know who I am."
Red seemed to take him a little more seriously. It was obvious he knew something.
"You know that man, who is he?"
"You don't want to have anything to do with him. If you're smart, you won't go looking, and you'll stop asking questions."
"Why? Because that is Johnnie Walker."
"Like the whisky?"
"Ah, it's some nickname he got. I don't know why."
"Well who is he?"
"Some tough guy who thought he could be a hero. The Boss sure made him suffer for that. Trust me, don't show this picture around anymore, and don't go asking about him. It's likely to get you killed."
"But I have to know. You can see me right there. I know him. I need to find him."
Red reached forward and grabbed his jacket, holding on tight as he hauled him in close.
"Look, I don't want to hear that name or see that photo again, and you won't go showing or talking about him around town, you hear? You do, and you won't be walking out of here in the morning."
Zed couldn't understand where the hostility was coming from, but he held his tongue.
"Don't push me on this. I am not a violent man, but I will do whatever is necessary to protect the people we have here. You keep your mouth shut!"
He turned and left, but Zed noticed him look back and keep a keen eye on him as he went about his business. Zed climbed back down from the wall and back over to Rave. He was even more frustrated than before. He had found someone with answers, and yet they hadn't helped at all.
"You see, they look all civilised, but they ain't no better than anyone else," she said.
"They aren't trying to kill us."
"Not yet, but don't think they won't. I'll take first watch tonight."
"Come on, we're safe here."
She didn't look convinced. The day soon passed into night. Zed would have been bored to death sitting there all day if he didn't have so much to think about and so many questions to try and answer. He was asleep before he knew it, and being shaken awake in what seemed like just a few moments later.
"Come on, wake up," said Rave.
She was shaking him more violently, and he eventually arose. He was exhausted and wanted a little more sleep.
"Is it my turn already?"
She nodded before lying down.
He dragged himself up into a seated position against a post on the porch of the building that had been their home for that day. He was looking out into the town. Only the moon provided light, and there was no movement at all. A single guard sat on duty at the wall. He wondered what lay at the other side of town, another wall perhaps? It didn't matter. His mind began to wander, and as he fell deeper into a dream like state, his eyes began to shut only half an hour after being awoken. He descended into a deep sleep.
There she was again, the woman, and the girl. He played the memory over and over again in his mind, and yet there seemed nothing either side of it. It was a cruel turn of events, as he could tell it was a fond and treasured memory. Finally, another came back to him of that woman with her arms around his shoulders and hugging him. The feeling seemed so real, and that was when it struck him, somebody was that close to him. His eyes opened, and Red was leaning over him with his hand in his inside pocket reaching for the photos. He felt the cool steel of a blade at his throat in readiness to end his life.